Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Four Female Saints of India

The feminine aspect of the divine is very strong in Hinduism—whether in the many Deities worshipped, in the theology, or in the number of female saints throughout its history.

Representations of the  Sage Agasthya and Lopamudra Devi
Classical Hinduism traces its origins to the ancient Rishis who received revelations, later compiled into the Vedas, which form the basis of Hinduism’s teachings. These Rishis, some single and some married, lived in ashrams in the forest and the tradition recognizes the wives of these Rishis as great spiritual personalities themselves, at par with their husbands.

Among them is Lopamudra Devi, the wife of the sage Agasthya. She is credited with great contributions to the theology of the Feminine, and spread the fame of the Lalita Sahasranama (the thousand names of Devi, the Divine Mother.) She was expert in the philosophy of the Divine Feminine and many of her hymns are recorded in the Vedas.

The Tamil saint Andal appeared South India in the pre-Medieval period. A charming story is told of her appearing in a sacred Tulsi garden and being adopted by her father, the saint Perialvar. Raised in a deeply spiritual environment, she became famous for her deep devotion to God. She considered herself to be the wife of Vishnu (an Avatar of Krishna) and composed many hymns in the mood of a wife in love with God, the Divine Lover. Her songs are still sung at weddings in the Tamil country. Her father, realizing that she loved only Vishnu, arranged her marriage to Lord Ranganatha, a carved-stone representation of Vishnu. To the wonderment of the assembly, Andal’s body merged with that of the Deity.

Another female saint who experienced ecstatic love for God was Meerabai, born in 1498 in Rajasthan, West India. As a child, she witnessed a wedding procession and asked her mother who her husband would be. Her mother gave her a statue of Krishna and from then on, she considered herself to only be the wife of the Divine.  Meerabai was born into a royal family, but showing no interest in the court or family, spent her days in a state of ecstasy with her beloved Krishna. Finally, in despair, she was ejected by her family and spent the rest of her life travelling through India, composing songs of her Beloved, which remain well known, even to this day.

Amritananda Mayi
A modern female saint is Armritananda Mayi, also known as Amma. Born into a poverty-stricken family from Kerala, in South India, she spent, as a small child, many hours in deep meditation, experiencing periods of great rapture. She also had the habit of giving away the meagre possessions of her family to those in even greater need, to the consternation of her family. As news of her spiritual attainment spread, she attracted followers, and despite being born into a lower-caste family, some of her first disciples came from Brahmin families, causing quite a stir. She is known as Amma (Mother) because of her habit of spontaneously embracing people to comfort them.

1 comment:

  1. A correction...Andal loved Krishna and imagined herself as a gopika in Vrndavan. She sought to marry Him, and expressed this in her 133 hymns. The Lord at Srirangam consented to this and upon entering the temple, Andal vanished into the Deity.